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How Does Football Pools Betting Differ From Other Sports Betting?
Or are they just the same? 

Think about betting on a horse race or the result of one football match. Someone placing the bet is given the odds by the 'bookie' either over the counter, over the telephone or increasingly, online (we’ll ignore on-course betting as there is no real football equivalent). The quoted odds when the price is first set are built on the bookmaker’s view of the odds of a particular outcome - 1/2/3 or win, lose, draw. Remember, we’re looking at the simple comparison here, so fixed odds football betting is left to one side for now.

As the date and time of the race approaches, the odds quoted by the bookie 'drift out' - that is, lengthen (maybe from 3/1 to 8/1); or they may come in - shorten (say from 33/1 to 7/2). We're using the UK fractional odds system here, not US or European - but the basic principle is unchanged.

This lengthening or shortening of the price is purely a result of betting weight that the bookie is seeing and the money he or she has at risk. It is only loosely related to the 'real odds' of the outcome of the event, which would be an unbiased judgement of all the factors likely to affect the outcome. The bookie would only shorten the odds to protect himself (because he is taking too many long-odds bets which would be painful to lose), or lengthening the odds on other horses in the race to balance off the shorter priced horses. This moves the betting away from the favourite, again to protect the bookie’s position.

If the bookmaker's book is getting out of balance, perhaps by having taken several large bets, then they will insure themselves by 'laying-off' - placing bets of their own with other bookies to offset their risk. The principles are the same in hedge funds and stock trading.

Of course, on a 'quiet day', bookies may also offer generous odds as a way of drumming up business.

What this boils down to is that if you bet when odds are first available for the event, then you will probably get a close to realistic odds for the real outcome of the event (in the view of the bookie).

When the bet is placed, the punter knows in advance what the payout will be for a given result (irrespective of when the bet is placed). The principle is the same for a fixed odds bet on a football match. However, there are only four possible outcomes of a football match for the team you select (win, lose, score draw, no score draw), ignoring voids. So on a random basis for a single football match the odds are 1 in 4 of a correct single result forecast. For a horse race with 8 horses, random odds are 1 in 8 for single result forecast (win, or lose), ignoring a 'place' which is really a combination bet.

How does that differ from the pools, and what are the chances of winning the football pools?

In UK or Australian football pools, the punter is betting that a certain set of matches will return a certain result (8 draws or 11 home wins in 49 matches). The odds to the punter are not fixed at the time of the bet. There is no advance knowledge of the number of draws there will be on a given coupon. In the 2009/2010 UK season (2008/2009 season in brackets), there were 383 (344) score draws on 40 (42) coupons - an average of 9.6 (8.3) score draws per coupon. It was a bad winter and there were many pools panel results. Including no-score draws, the figure is 532 (544) draws, an average of 13.3 (12.9) draws per coupon. 27 (28) coupons had 12 or more draw games on them.

The chances of forecasting a single correct line of 8 score draws when there are only 8 score draw results, are 451 million to 1. Yes, a massive number, but with a low cost for each 'line', or bet, and some careful form analysis, it is possible to get the odds down to as low as 3/1 at a reasonable level of stake.

So, you can see the differences clearly. The best odds on the football pools can be at least as good as on the horses. It’s also much harder to influence the outcome of a football match than a horse race!

© 2011 Phill Marks

Phill Marks, March 2011

A long term successful football pools player with a system to make the odds work for the serious football pools fan. Predictions and results, statistics, insights and more besides. Drop in and see me, find out how you can improve your odds=>


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